Aims: Research and publication of the planet's remaining plant species as yet unknown to science is essential if we are to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 “Life on Land” which includes the protection of terrestrial ecosystems and halting of biodiversity loss. If species are not known to science, they cannot be assessed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and thus reducing the possibility to protect them from extinction. Scientific discovery, including naming new taxa, is important because without a scientific name, a species is invisible to science and the possibilities of researching its ecology, applications, and threats, and conserving it, are greatly reduced. This study analyzes the new species of vascular plants in the world published in 2020, aims to enrich the basic information about the new species of vascular plants in the world, discuss the current threats to biodiversity, and summarize the direction of future research.
Methods: The data were derived from the International Plant Name Index (IPNI; https://www.ipni.org/). Statistics of new species of vascular plants published in 2020 were available as of February 1, 2021 excluding new combinations, new statuses or new names and bryophyte data. In order to facilitate the comparison of new species of vascular plants discovered and published in major regions and countries in 2020, the data in this article were only from IPNI, although IPNI had not documented all new species published in 2020 by February 1, 2021, and those species published in some local journals (such as university journals) and local monographs were not available in IPNI.
Results: In 2020, 1,747 new species of vascular plants were described worldwide in 103 journals and 5 books by 1,544 botanists (264 Chinese botanists, 1,280 non-Chinese botanists), as documented in IPNI. Among the 1,747 new species, 1,689 belonged to angiosperms, 52 to pteridophytes, and only 6 to gymnosperms. A large number of new species were from the largest families, such as Asteraceae, Orchidaceae, and Piperaceae. Southern America and tropical Asia were the most important regions of new discoveries with more than 828 new species described in 2020. By country, China, Brazil, and Madagascar were the top three with the most new species discovered in 2020, with 247, 223, and 99, respectively. Phytotaxa and PhytoKeys were the top two journals in terms of the numbers of new species of vascular plants published in 2020 and published 644 and 168 species, respectively. Among various new names there were five invalid names and two illegitimate names.
Conclusions: Despite the increased attention given to biodiversity in recent years, the evidence indicates that a number of species in the world have yet to be discovered. Further investigations of the world vascular plants are still needed, especially in biodiversity hotspots and islands. We recommend an urgent increase in investment in scientific discovery of plant species, while they still survive. Priorities include more investment in training taxonomists, in building and equipping collections-based research centers, especially in species-rich, income-poor regions where the bulk of species are yet unknown to science.